Sexing Up A Melody

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Adding Fine Details To A Melody

At the end of the day when someone listens to your music the thing they are going to walk away with is the melody. If Cannibal Corpse is your favorite band then there is a greater probability that this won’t apply to you, but the melody is the only part that will be whistled by any would be fan. Not the chords played under it, not those quirky, odd-time transitions, and certainly not anything the drums are doing. The melody. It’s all about the melody.

Enter my opinion. It sucks when people land on a melody, but cease exploration of what can be done with it. I often hear music on the radio or something of the sorts and I’ll hear Joe Blow playing this or that and think to myself “yeah that’s a pretty good melody.” But then they go on to play the same thing over and over again exactly the same way. Yeah it’s a good melody, but come on. There has to be a way you can sex it up a bit.

One of the big reasons classical music (I’m lumping baroque and romantic in with classical) is my favorite genre is because there is so much exploration on what can be done with the melody. Hell, baroque music is nothing but melody and exercises in what can be done with them. With that delicious dose of personal tastes I will use the works of a certain Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky for my examples. The song of choice? The famous Violin Concerto in D Major, 1st Movement. Actually it’s just a few excerpts from it. I’d wager if I were to chop up the whole entire thing I’d be working on this for the next year and this article would never be finished. But I digress. Onward to the music.

The Melody

Concerto Main Melody
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Here’s a picture of the recurring melody played throughout the song in one of its many forms. This particular part is among the very first parts performed by the solo violin. Apart from being perhaps the greatest example of beauty in sound this also presents the melody in its most basic form.

It’s pretty simple to look at and to process. When heard it has what all melodies strive for. It is satisfying and memorable. When variations come later on in the song, whether we readily recognize it or not we do relate it to the time we heard the bare bones version.

Now for the amped up version. Harmonized.

Orchestra 1
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Orchestra 2
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This is a dumbed down version of the whole shabang that’s going on, but you can get the idea. The notation the flute, violin, and viola are playing is largely the same as the first melody. The elaboration is demonstrated is the harmony between the three as well as the differing choices in tones to harmonize. The horn section offers rhythm under the melody. Overall it’s more or less the same thing just on a bigger scale.

The addition of the 1/16 and 1/32 notes before the last beat as seen in each bar is still to this day a common trick used to add some extra zing to a melody. It doesn’t tamper with the big picture and whether people can pinpoint the specific tones or tricks used they can feel it all the same. And that’s what really matters.

And finally the elaboration de jour. Arpeggios and Scales

Interlude 1
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Interlude 2
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Hearing the original melody can be a bit more challenging here and seeing it may be as challenging since there’s a lot more going on. Instead of sustained tones and rests the gaps have been filled in with arpeggios and scales, but the first 1/16 note of the 1st and 2nd beats as well as the last beat entirely hold the original melody in place. Looking at the second page shows even more elaborations on top of the addition of arpeggios and scales. In the last picture demonstrates how he playfully dips up and down an octave still adding flavor to things.

The Moral Of The Story

There’s always something more that can be done with a melody. No matter how stable, satisfying, or just plain awesome it is. There are always little things you can add or change along the way to keep retain the feel of the melody itself while still spicing it up. From quick little arpeggios to elaborate exercises in harmony there’s always something to make each listen a little bit different. How much or how little – is up to you.


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